It’s the first annual Omphalomancer Convention! I’m so excited to get a glimpse at all the other weirdos who are just like me. I mean, being friends on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter is one thing, but seeing other Omphalomoncers in person is an entirely different experience!
I set up my booth in row thirteen, spot eleven. How odd, my two lucky numbers! It’s meant to be! I placed two chairs facing each other, one sweet folding camp chair for me and another straight back metal chair for my clients. I don’t want them getting too comfy. I put up the price list next to my very blank guest sign-in sheet. Cash only. No refunds. I have to support my online shopping habit somehow!
My stomach was growling like I had an actual bear inside me. The smell of buttered popcorn and roasted cinnamon almonds wafting in from the concession stand in the lobby was making me salivate. I whipped out my phone to distract myself from hunger or from making eye contact with anybody. Or maybe I planed on doing some online shopping.
Once my cart was full and I was about to click “purchase now,” I noticed a woman standing at the entrance, clutching her purse close to her chest. She was sobbing like a five year old kid who was just told she needed to go to bed instead of playing video games. She shuffled into the vast expanse of the convention center, her desperation echoing throughout the massive space. She looked lost.
I slid down in my chair and attempted to hide under the table. I’ve only seen this type of thing done on YouTube a few hundred times and the only person I’ve practiced on is myself. In a mirror. In the dark. With a blindfold on. Plus, I can’t stand interacting with people face to face.
I peeked through a slit in the table covering. An usher took her by the arm and directed her right towards me. Of course. She nodded in my direction as I reluctantly crawled out from underneath my shelter and I showed her to the chair. She lowered herself down slowly, her breath short and quick, tears still streaming from her hazel eyes.
Why is everybody always so dramatic? And why does everybody feel the need to talk to me about their problems? I don’t care!
I held out my hand as I finally finished completing my shopping transaction.
“That will be seventy-five dollars please.”
She slapped four twenty dollar bills into my palm and I immediately and automatically shoved them into my bra for safe keeping.
Her gaze dropped down to her feet. “Keep the... change.”
“You can set your bag underneath the chair or someplace out of the way, down by your feet is fine, too. Whatever feels comfortable for you,” I said.
Ugh. Why do I have to cater to comfort and sensitivity?
I put my phone down with a loud thud.
“Ok let’s begin. Lift your shirt up for me.”
The woman’s head tilted sideways like a confused dog. I gently asked her again, and she tilted her head the other way.
She spoke with a slight southern drawl. “You want me to do what now?”
I demonstrated by pulling the cottony softness up to my third or fourth set of ribs.
“High enough so I can see your navel. Like this!”
“Mah what?” she asked.
“Your navel, your belly button.”
Why doesn’t she understand?
“Aah thought aah was getting a psychic reading? What kind of ...”
She started to stand up, but I sat her back down.
“Trust me, you are, you’ll see. Whenever you are ready, go ahead and lift it up.”
What am I doing?!
Her hands grasped at the edge of the plain white cotton t-shirt that was neatly tucked into a pair of blue jeans. She pulled it up in a flash and put it down again, just as quickly. I tried not to laugh. I mean I’m practically demanding her to partially expose herself in the middle of a giant convention center with tons of other people standing around watching. And by tons I mean three.
“Go ahead it’s ok.” I reassured her with a smile.
Come on! Just do it already!
The suspense was killing me, or maybe it was the hunger. This time she held up her shirt higher and longer.
Yes, yes! That’s it!
“Ooo an inny!” My excitement escaped and attracted a few dirty, yet curious looks.
I bent over super close to her stomach and puffed a big breath into her belly button.
She practically jumped out of her seat, which in turn scared me just as much. “What in the world are you do-win’?”
“I just had to clear out the lint. I need to get a good idea of how far inward it goes. It’s important!”
Is it though?
Some lint fell to the floor and mingled with the dust bunnies that clung to the chair legs.
She blew out a sigh of disappointment. “Whatever you need to do.”
I examined it for a few moments. My first REAL belly button! In the flesh! On a perfectly strange stranger! How exciting! I picked up my phone to take a picture, but then I remembered... doctor patient confidentiality.
“Hmm. Yes, that makes sense. Oh wow! Yep. Uh huh.”
I hoped I sounded convincing.
“What makes sense? What do you see? Please tell me somethin’!”
“Okay,” I started. “So your navel, er, belly button goes horizontal, meaning you are a complex and highly emotional person. Yet you are very gentle and cautious, sensitive, and prone to worry.”
“Gee, what gave that away!” A giant tear snuck down her cheek, or maybe it was snot. Either way she was clearly upset.
“It’s also off center, just a bit.” I pulled out an old school measuring tape and held it up against her skin as if I was checking the size of her waistline. “It’s about an eighth of an inch off, yes yes, very rare! Quite a gem, indeed!”
“Well, what does THAT all mean? Don’t hold anythin’ back. Just give me all of the gory details at once, mkay?”
More tears. I handed her a tissue. Not really sure where it even came from, the tissue that is. But one appeared in between my fingers like magic. Poof!
I handed it to her and looked her straight in the eyes.
Then she blew her nose. Eww.
“What’s wrong with me?” More crying.
I took her soft and delicate hand into mine, the same one that previously had a death grip on her purse, white knuckled and angry. I could feel her sadness, her rage, her snotty tissue.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Meriam. Meriam Brown.”
“Meriam, you're fun loving and carefree, but something, or someone, is holding you back. You're feeling trapped, betrayed, controlled. Somebody close to you has done you wrong, very very wrong.”
Where the heck did that come from? That felt real.
“How can you tell all that from starin’ at mah belly button?” she asked.
The truth is, I could just tell. I don’t know how, but something deep down inside wrenched and twisted in my gut, a sadness that I’ve never experienced before, or maybe I have experienced it and just blocked it out. Or maybe I never really cared enough to actually, truly care.
“Mah husband, he’s…”
I stroked the back of her hand as if I was stroking the top of my cat’s head. I’ve read about this feeling before. This must be what the experts call “empathy.”
“Meriam, if I were you I’d follow my heart. I know it’s scary, terrifying, but you don’t deserve to be treated the way you're being treated. Whoever it is. Wherever you are. You deserve to be treated better. Way better.”
By him and by me.
I dug out the cash that was buried in my chest and I held it out for her to take back. It was only slightly soggy with sweat.
“Here, there is no charge for this session. Just do me one favor, okay?”
“What's that?” she asked.
“Promise me you’ll gather up some of your belongings, your money, your pride, whatever is important to you. Then take this cash to the nearest bus station and buy a ticket outta here. Go somewhere you'll be happy. Where you can be you."
She squeezed my fingers tight in hers and held onto them longer than I’ve ever held a hand in my entire life. It was comforting, I liked it. Her eyes met mine and a big smile appeared. I smiled back. And that’s when I knew she would be okay.